Several readers have shared how their animal companions express their affection. I'll share their accounts over the next two days.
DEAR DR. FOX: We have two 1-year-old kittens, and we love them so much. The black and white tabby with half a mustache (Annastasha) is madly in love with me. She climbs onto my chest while I am lying down and rubs her face all over my face and kisses me all over my face. I kiss her back, all over her head and back and tummy, and she loves it. She sleeps near my feet at the end of the bed or next to me, spooning me. She hears our car going up the driveway and waits for us at the front door. She's a total love bug, and we pick her up all the time and love all over her and tell her how beautiful she is -- it's the best!
The other cat is a Maine coon. He pumps my wife's breasts and drools on her. He catches mice and leaves them dead beside my wife's side of the bed. He loves it when my wife picks him up, rests him over her shoulder like a baby and walks around the house with him. He just hangs there, his front paws hanging down and his tail totally still. It's crazy, but he loves her so much. Then he'll come up to me and roll over, exposing his tummy and letting me rub him while he does his light bunny-feet routine.
I have rabbits who will groom me from head to toe. And I massage them and love on them while they grind away.
I do believe that the more you love on your pets, the more they will love on you. It needs to start early, although I am sure there are certain exceptions. But we consistently talk to our pets and hold and kiss them, and I think that goes a long way with them feeling good about us, too. -- S.N., Alexandria, Virginia
DEAR S.N.: Beware of the cat who flops on one side for tummy touches. This attention-seeking display, as with one of our cats, can mean they get stepped on and injured or you injure yourself trying to avoid the same.
Happy rabbits have a tooth-grinding display of contentment.
DEAR DR. FOX: I have a rescue cat, approximately 12 years old. Shelby had been living in the bottom of a three-tiered cage, in a corner of the shelter, for close to two years. She took to my son immediately. She has the sweetest disposition. Over the past several months, she tucks me into bed at night. She lies partially on the pillow next to me and places a paw on my cheek or head. Once she senses a change in my breathing, she nestles herself at the foot of the bed. What a lovely way to fall asleep at night! -- B.M., Wappingers Falls, New York
DEAR B.M.: Two years in a cage, and still her spirit, thanks to you and your son, has not been severely harmed.
Shelby does sound like one of those angels in fur who enters the human realm. She was treated cruelly or suffered deeply in some way, and yet she can still show love and affection toward you. It would be anthropomorphizing to say that animals "forgive," or give "unconditional love." Rather, where there is a sense of security and no fear, their affectionate, loving, nurturing, protective and playful natures surface.
Some people refuse to believe that animals have such qualities or virtues. In the process of such denial -- often self-serving -- people risk extinguishing these finer attributes in themselves unless they are awakened by some particular experience with an animal that makes them more sensitive and empathic. Hunters, for instance, have laid down their weapons, and trappers their tools, after seeing how the mate or parent of the bird or beast they harmed and killed responded in evident grief, like the gander falling protectively over his lifelong goose-mate. I like the story of the bobcat who approached and then collapsed beside two mountain skiers who took the suffering animal to the nearest veterinary hospital to have porcupine quills removed from his face, mouth and paws. This human help-seeking wild cat was later released into his domain after intensive and dedicated veterinary care.
Cats and other animals can be our relaxers and healers, lowering blood pressure and cortisol levels. So many millions of animals help the blind, deaf, paraplegic and sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder and loneliness. They alert us to and even rescue us from danger, alert us when we need certain medications, and guard us against seizures and diabetic ketoacidosis. They help children learn to read and become more empathic, and even have better immune systems.
As we come to realize how animals have served and benefited us for countless generations, I am glad to see more people supporting animal and environmental protection organizations and political initiatives. Another upside is more people becoming vegetarians or eating less meat and supporting humane and organic farming practices.
SUMMER HOT DOG COAT ISSUE
Shaving dogs' coats in summer months does them a disservice as the fur actually protects them by preventing heat from getting to their skin. It acts like the insulation around a thermos flask, keeping the internal temperature constant. The groomers who give in to pressure to shave dogs' coats are acceding to demands of customers who think they are helping their dogs by shaving them. Keep the coats on, and keep them dry after bathing or spraying to cool off.
As for dogs left in hot vehicles, that is a felony cruelty, and dogs working or playing outdoors need plenty of drinking water.
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.net.)